Threading the City

Start Date: November ,1 2008
End Date: November ,1 2008
Location: USJ
Architect: Nathalie Harb

"Threading the city was the first workshop organized by the cultural association Human and Urban in November 2008, shortly after it was established. The focus was not solely the city's stories, narratives and personalized histories, but an actual miniature model of the city itself, as an urban quarter, assembled with cardboard boxes on a grid that was mapped out. Narratives were literally "built" or constructed through their representations in various sources of media, whether, text, video, photography or sound, resulting in a collective multi-media installation. The workshop was led by Nathalie Harb, with the concept having arisen from the documentation of similar work, "Rue du Mot Perdu," in her personal exploration of Beirut in 2005, after graduating from Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design in London with an MA in scenography. "Rue du Mot Perdu" was Nathalie's first installation, which "corresponded to Human and Urban and what it was trying to do. Architecture does not stand on its own," Nathalie states, as the human aspect is inevitably embedded within it.

“I thought it would be interesting to work on the narrative of each participant and recreate what was happening in the city,” in their city or cities. “We used carton boxes and imagined they were buildings,” Nathalie says over a cup of coffee with Archileb. The participants were from various backgrounds: literature, music, performance, film and it was a relatively intense workshop, where encounters and urban stories were depicted creatively and in a tactile manner, as evidenced by the images of the final results.

Specific spaces were designated: from the Sri Lankan restaurant, the only ATM machine, to the menopausal woman who would work out in her home facing a men’s gym and the stairs upon which a story was written. Interestingly, the participant who wrote a complete story and was most textual was primarily a dancer. She also projected a video of her loved one sleeping onto her urban space. There was even a tightrope walker in this miniature city, whose home “interior was like the sea inside. They created such a dreamy atmosphere during the workshop, even though it was the participants’ first encounter with installation and translating something spatial. I didn’t intervene at all; these are not my stories,” recounted Nathalie. During the workshop, the participants found themselves experimenting in different ways than they did in their creative lives, mapping real and fictive trajectories through the city and its untold stories and secrets.

“The idea behind my work is to have a close contact to the tale or narrative.” Nathalie Harb expressed her fascination with the “rhythm of reading” a story, where reading can be metaphorical as well as literal, referring to the multiple layers of understanding, experiencing and perceiving a city. It is most pertinent then, that in the workshop description, Michel de Certeau is quoted: “[The city practitioners] are walkers, Wandersmanner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban “text” they write without being able to read it…The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author, nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces”.

Also inextricable from the concept of “reading” or reading into space, is the notion of viewing, and Nathalie works a lot with video as well. It is not a coincidence since she studied film directing at ALBA before moving to London and much of her work involves looking through the apertures of buildings, windows or bullet holes, to “see” the story, in the form of video, projected slides, or other kinds of visual loops.

“The rhythm in my work definitely comes from cinema, by trying to apply the rhythm of an edit unto space. There is a pulse that is not just related to time, but concerned with how you perceive, how your mind switches from reading a text, to reading a video, to watching a live performance. With each act, your mind is taking you somewhere in time. A live performance tells you this is here and now. The letter is different; it is about something that has happened. The video is the illusion that it is happening now, but it is further in time. This is the rhythm I care to create.”

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